A few weeks ago, my partially vaccinated partner and my wholly unvaccinated self got an invitation to a group dinner, held unmasked and indoors. There’d be Thai food for 10, we were promised, and two über-immunized hosts, more than two weeks out from their last Moderna doses. And what about everyone else? I asked. Would they be fully vaccinated, too?
Well, came the response. Not really. Some would be, some wouldn’t. But it had been so long—weren’t we close enough?
The answer was of course no, and my partner and I ended up staying home. But as the weeks wear on, I’m having more and more of these conversations with people who are struggling to navigate the new social calculus of a partly vaccinated world. Even as infection rates tick up again, people are bending, stretching, and breaking the rules governing how they should act around others: A recent Gallup poll showed that Americans’ vigilance about distancing and avoiding public places seems to be slackening, regardless of their immunization status. Slowly but surely, we’re losing our grip.
To be clear, we have reason for optimism. Vaccination rates are also rising, and according to the latest estimates, the currently cleared shots are extraordinarily effective at preventing not just symptomatic disease, but asymptomatic infections—key to slowing the virus’s often-silent spread. In recent weeks, the CDC has green-lit fully vaccinated people to skip post-exposure quarantines; mingle with one another in small groups, indoors and unmasked; visit unvaccinated, low-risk people under limited circumstances; and, now, travel safely within the United States. With less than 20 percent of the country fully vaccinated, the agency is quite understandably moving with caution, and hasn’t yet changed its stance on whether vaccinated people should wear masks in public (yes) or gather in medium- and large-size groups (no).